How to Become a Probation Officer in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for probation officers. Get the facts about education, training and certification requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Corrections degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Probation Officer Do?

Probation officers work with violators of the law outside of jail to ensure that they become integrated, law-abiding citizens. By monitoring the behavior and lifestyles of probationers, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work to reduce or eliminate recidivism among prior offenders. They may direct or provide probationers with job training, drug counseling or other rehabilitative measures. They conduct meetings with probationers and their families, maintain case files and provide regular reports on the progress made during the probation period.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a probation officer.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Field of Study Criminal justice, social work, behavioral sciences or related field
Key Responsibilities Conduct evaluation of offenders; determine course of rehabilitation; prepare reports on probationer's progress
Certification May be required to take state-sponsored training and pass certification testing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists*
Median Salary (2015) $49,360 for all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Probation Officer?

A probation officer works with individuals who have been convicted of a crime and received a sentence of probation rather than jail or prison time. The probation officer works with the offender and ensures she or he meets any requirements set by the court. The probation officer also attempts to prevent the offender from committing any further crimes.

Step 1: Research the Career Duties of a Probation Officer

Probation officers specialize in either adult or juvenile cases. They research an offender's case and past history and make recommendations for sentencing. They may also testify in court if necessary. A probation officer monitors the offender's progress, which could include meeting with offenders and their families regularly, contacting community organizations for assistance in watching the offender's behavior and activities, and networking with therapists. If needed, the probation officer can give referrals to job training programs or substance abuse facilities. Probation officers also research allegations of illegal activity.

Step Two: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

A career as a probation officer requires that you obtain a bachelor's degree in an area like criminal justice. If you don't have a background in corrections, social work, counseling or a related field, a master's degree may be required for employment with some agencies. During your college years, try to obtain practical experience in these areas.

While pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, you'll study courses such as criminal evidence and procedure, American government, psychology, culture and global history, crime theories and American judicial systems. Later, if you opt to enroll in a graduate-level criminal justice program, your curriculum will include classes like criminology theory, criminal justice research methods, current legal issues, administrative law and foundations of criminal justice. When you have completed your education, you'll be ready to apply for a position as a probation officer.

Step Three: Complete a Training Program for Certification

Once you have been hired, your next step will be successfully passing a government-funded training program, which may culminate with a certification examination. The program may cover court operations, policies and procedures, as well as areas related to a probation officer's powers and duties. Training can take approximately six weeks, but program length may vary depending on the area you live in.

Step Four: Pass Qualifying Examinations

In addition to acquiring education and training, you'll need to pass a rigorous series of physical, psychological, oral and written tests to complete the process of becoming a probation officer. These examinations verify that you are in excellent physical and mental health, possess knowledge of the law and have good communication skills. Background investigations may be conducted to ensure that you have no criminal history.

Step Five: Advance Your Career

You may find that you're eligible for a promotion to a supervisory role after obtaining a significant amount of work experience and demonstrating excellence on the job. Although these were the main criteria for job advancement, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that by also obtaining a graduate degree in criminal justice or a related field, you could enhance your prospects.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Social workers also help individuals, families and communities identify, cope with, adjust to and mediate problems and situations that have stymied their everyday lives. Clinical social workers help diagnose and even treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychotherapy services may also be provided. They may help clients avail themselves of existing community services including food stamps and healthcare options. They keep track of the measures applied to each case and follow up on the effectiveness of those measures, the progress made and make adjustments, additions to or subtractions from those measures.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors deal with and advise individuals who suffer from various behavioral and/or mental disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and others. After evaluation and identification of a client's condition, they determine what therapeutic measures might be suitable. They help the client and the client's family in behavior modification and goal setting. They teach the client and the client's family about steps to take in order to prevent a recurrence of the disorder in question. They may also refer the client to other support services including job placement.

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